by J. Lea Lopez
Recently I held a contest on my personal blog where I challenged participants to write a very short story that was sexy, but where no one got naked. I thought it would be a fun way to entice people to try writing something erotic without the embarrassment of actually having to write a sex scene, and also a good way to encourage some outside-the-box thinking by taking the “sex” out of sexy writing.
So why am I telling you this, especially since I already named a winner? Because it told me something about some of my fellow aspiring writers. I was surprised—shocked, even—by the number of people who scoffed at the idea of entering because I’ve never read/written erotica. That’s not my genre. Or I’m no good at those kinds of scenes. I can’t do that. And then the handful of entries I did get were mostly prefaced with statements like I’m sorry if it sucks and I know I won’t win. Does no one have confidence anymore? Or even a good sense of just for the hell of it fun?
Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for having realistic expectations and being able to honestly assess our own talent. The last thing I want is for any of my writing friends to suffer from the same delusions that cause some people (you know which ones) to audition for American Idol and then throw a hissy when everyone laughs. But don’t you want to challenge yourself, ever? Don’t you want to branch out and try something completely different, if only for 1200 words that only a handful of people will ever read? (My blog isn’t the most highly-trafficked corner of the Web. It’s not like I asked anyone to submit their writing to the New Yorker.)
All career considerations and aspirations for wealth or fame aside—why are you writing? If not to stretch the limits—of the imagination, of a genre, of your own talent—then why?
One of my favorite and best English professors in college told our Creative Writing class that we should always be pushing the envelope. Always. He told us to write what we love and want to write, but push the envelope. That’s stuck with me over the years, and I think it’s something we should all be doing. Write a formulaic bodice-ripper for Harlequin if that’s what you want to do, but for goodness sake, push that envelope! Write the best damn bodice-ripper we’ve ever seen.
We always have an eye toward marketability and the like, because we do want to make a living at this writing gig. I’m not suggesting you expect your literary YA space opera about werewolves and vamps forming an alliance against the aliens from galaxy XSr429-6 to be an easy sell. But don’t just regurgitate the same stuff that’s been circulating for years, either. Oh, hell, you know what? If that literary YA space opera is what you are just aching to write – do it! Write the best damn literary YA space opera you can, and then strip it down and do it again. Learn the shortcomings of the genres you choose, and the weaknesses in your own ability, then fix them. Find ways to exploit your strengths. Write something in a genre or viewpoint you’re uncomfortable with, to see how it feels. Find what you can learn from the experience, trash the rest, and move on. But do it. Stop sabotaging yourself from the word go by filling your head with negative talk and doubt and do it.
Challenge yourself. Challenge your audience. Strive for the growth that comes from pushing the envelope.
Otherwise, why are you writing at all?